Once they got down to it, it was clear that the match would be all about execution for the Jackrabbits versus grit and desire for the decidedly smaller Redondo Union team. Fortunately, the latter knew a little something about winning as an underdog.
In 2006, the Sea Hawks had been in the same position against perennial volleyball powerhouse Mira Costa High School—and had improbably walked away with the championship. A mainstay on that team was a senior named Devon Dykstra, who subsequently earned a scholarship to play for the University of Colorado.
The senior leader of this Redondo Union team is Lara Dykstra, Devon’s younger sister. In fact, the current Sea Hawks have a Dykstra “two-fer” which includes sophomore Skylar. There was something epic brewing here…
Long Beach Poly came out blazing, executing one perfect play after another, raining down kill shots on the heads of the outgunned Sea Hawks. In the first game, it seemed that any points that accrued to Redondo were the result of Jackrabbit mistakes born of over-aggression. After a while Redondo managed to stop the bleeding, but Game One was, as the saying goes, not as close as the 25–20 final score would indicate.
But Game Two…well that was a different story.
Having learned that pretty much any standard offensive play that they ran would result in a block by Poly’s formidable front line, the Sea Hawks started to focus on turning those previously unwelcome second opportunities into points. They dedicated themselves to relentless defensive play, digging at everything that came over the net and looking to place, rather than force shots. And it worked.
Redondo jumped out to an early lead, and knocked the Jackrabbits just enough off their game that they started to make mistakes. It was 13–6 before Long Beach Poly called a time out, a tactic that didn’t derail the Sea Hawk momentum one bit. Game Two went to Redondo, 25–16. It was the fewest points that Poly had scored in a set all year long.
In addition to enjoying Redondo Union’s strategic artistry, I was mesmerized by the pure effusiveness that the Sea Hawks displayed. Each time they pulled off an improbable play—and especially when they engineered a successful block—their knees buckled and they fell upon each other, their animated faces registering sincere delight at what they’d just done. They were surprising even themselves and having the time of their life doing it. By then, everyone in the place who wasn’t a Jackrabbits fan had adopted these inspired underdogs.
Early in Game Three, an absolutely phenomenal point was played, during which each team rallied repeatedly to somehow save and return the ball against all odds. The digging and diving that unfolded seemed to suspend time—I really have no clue as to how long that point took. But it was merely a preview of that entire third set. Redondo Union eventually willed its way to a 21–19 lead, and Sea Hawk supporters could sense that something historic was in the air.
At this point I’d like to describe exactly for you how this ring of destiny came full circle—how my neighborhood team, coached by a guy in pink sneakers, knocked off one of the best volleyball teams in the country.
But unfortunately I’d be lying.
Employing a relentless power offense, Long Beach Poly came back to win that third game, 25–23 and draw within one game of the title. Having come so close and fallen just short, it was almost inevitable that Redondo would suffer a letdown to begin Game Four. They fell behind early, and it soon became obvious that their feet were no longer working quite fast enough to keep digging out the onslaught of Jackrabbit kill shots.
When it was all over, Redondo Union held their heads high and graciously congratulated their counterparts. Coach Chaffins later said, “It was disappointing to lose, but there were no tears. We left it all out on the court.”
And curiously enough, nobody in the crowd was heard to be clamoring for their $9 back.